“And the strange thing was: I knew that most people didn’t see her as I did — if anything, found her a bit odd-looking with her off-kilter walk and her spooky redhead pallor. For whatever dumb reason I had always flattered myself that I was the only person in the world who really appreciated her — that she would be shocked and touched and maybe even come to view herself in a whole new light if she knew just how beautiful I found her. But this had never happened. Angrily, I concentrated on her flaws, wilfully studying the photographs that caught her at awkward ages and less flattering angles — long nose, thin cheeks, her eyes (despite their heartbreaking color) naked-looking with their pale lashes — Huck-Finn plain. Yet all these aspects were — to me — so tender and particular they moved me to despair.”
Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch
For all of Tartt’s talents, with description and prose and mood, with combining genre and fascination with high art (which I think is one of her signal talents, writing books that are both delicious in a not-quite-pulpy way while using art as an integral part of her story, giving the reader the assurance they’re reading something improving, nontrivial, that might otherwise seem, um, trashy), The Goldfinch isn’t without flaws. Plenty of other people have pointed out the book’s reliance on coincidence, which doesn’t bother me nearly as much as other things — and this bit, about Pippa, who our narrator Theo is unquestioningly in love with, highlights the worst of it. Because Theo really hardly ever is around Pippa — as children, before the big caesura between Theo’s childhood and adulthood in the middle of the book, we see them together for maybe two meetings; in the latter half, she just drifts about on the edges, a target for Theo’s obsessions. There’s nothing wrong, really, with a McGuffin or an empty vessel, even in a book that’s this full of them, although one would rather like Tartt to have written a female character for this book who’s not a paragon or a cipher. But it’s hard to square the very precise, balanced self-loathing of this bit, which is a beautifully done bit of character, with the absolute blank space he’s writing about — both Pippa, and his relationship with her.
Oh, and I’ve lost the citation, and Google isn’t helping me much: but whoever pointed out their irritation at the use of dashes (in terms of The Goldfinch being beautifully designed, and horribly marred by all the ugly dashes) was absolutely completely right, and typing out a paragraph or two of this just confirms. And you understand: I’m no stranger to a gratuitous en dash.
November 24, 2013, 9:30am Comments